Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom

Every Sunday I get an email newsletter from Andy Ross at Global Yell in Shetland. Today’s included a post about research into linen making in Shetland and there was a photo of a little book with a linen cover – ‘Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom’.

This sounded irresistible and I went looking for it online, discovering there are a few copies for sale in antiquarian bookshops and each one is too rare and costly to contemplate. I did find treasure, though.

  • The whole book has been digitised and is in the California Digital Library and so available for all at The Internet Archive. It’s full of poems and prose about spinning and weaving, with delightful illustrations and woodcuts. You can really get a sense of the physicality of it even through the screen. There’s a page-turning mode so you can view the pages close up, including the tactile linen cover, and there are various formats to download.

    book page

  • There’s a review of the book in the Spectator Archive. This is a charming extract:

    The paper was made by hand ; the cover is of unbleached flax spun by Langdale cottagers, and woven on a hand-loom ; the printing has been done at a hand-press. A kindly thoughtfulness has given the names of all, or as nearly all As it was possible to give, who have had a hand in the work. Editor, publisher, and illustrator we are accustomed to know by name ; but it is good, also, to be aware of our obligations to spinner of thread and weaver of linen, and binder.
    The Spectator 7 DECEMBER 1889, Page 11

I found a quirky personal connection as well. As the review in The Spectator mentions, the linen of the cover was spun and woven in Langdale, and the first illustration in the book is a view of the Langdale valley. And one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet here is that we have been away for a while, setting up Spinners, a holiday flat in Grasmere, just a few miles from Langdale. The view in the book is almost the same one we chose for a kitchen splashback at Spinners!

splashback

As I virtually ‘thumbed through’ the book (isn’t it interesting that thumbs are also digital), I saw that the foreword was by a man named Albert Fleming, who had facilitated a revival of spinning and weaving in Langdale in the 1880s. I hadn’t known anything about the textile history of Langdale before today, but when I’m next in Cumbria I’d like to try and find out more about this. I’ll leave you with a couple of lines quoted by Albert Fleming that really resonated with me – does anyone know what this is from?

It takes the ideal to blow an inch aside
The dust of the actual

Web Spins February Challenge – Racing Stripe

Late, but I hope not too late, my attempt at Racing Stripe for the Web Spins Challenge, working through the book Spin Art by Jacey Boggs. Racing Stripe consists of spinning a singles yarn while letting an existing yarn wrap around it in a controlled way.

fibre and yarn

I had this small arty batt carded and for the wrapping I chose a variegated cotton yarn that would sometimes contrast and sometimes blend in.

racing stripe singles

The spun singles. I ‘lost’ the striping yarn a few time in the fibre, especially to begin with. My batt was only carded once and was quite textural so I went with the flow as I drafted, resulting in some thicker parts with less wrapping and some thin, heavily wrapped sections.

racing stripe plied

I plied it – it’s supposed to be a singles but I wanted to see what would happen. It will find its way into a weaving sooner or later.

Web Spins challenge

A few months ago I went on an art retreat with my spinning wheel and tried out a few of the techniques in Jacey Boggs’ book Spin Art. Since then I haven’t had time to pick it up again or practise what I learned, but Monika of  red2white and Marian of  Florcita are just starting a new challenge, Web Spins: ‘The aim is to improve our basic spinning and learn new spinning techniques to be able to create various types of textured yarns’.  Slow spinning – one technique a month. Sounds perfect.

spinning supplies

scarves

These are all woven with my handspun on a 12 inch Ashford Knitter’s rigid heddle loom.

textile

textile

textile

I made them at the end of 2010. It’s high time to warp the loom again, since the New Year it’s been all spinning and no weaving.

fibre

Work is frenetic at the moment but I am making time to go to a weekly patchwork class on the island – two peaceful hours with likeminded people, and lovely log cabin to play with.

And out of this something very exciting is being born – the new Tiree Tapestry Group – tapestry in the sense of community tapestry, using a wide range of creative textile techniques. We’ll have a web site soon but there’s a little bit about us on our Facebook page. Our first meeting is on Friday – I can’t wait!